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This year marks the inauguration of a new decade and importantly, a new census — the nationwide survey that will influence the political and socioeconomic itinerary for the next 10 years. 

During this difficult time, many people are looking for ways to help. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to impact our community right now is to complete the 2020 census. A few minutes of your time ensures that our community receives proper funding and representation from the federal government and that the accuracy of research on our community is maintained for the next decade.

Every 10 years, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution under Article 1, Section 2, the U.S. Census Bureau counts every person who lives in the United States and its territories. This year, census day was April 1. Not only are you required to respond, but responding is in your and your community’s best interest.

Why is the census important? Census data helps determine everything from the number of representatives each state has in Congress to how funds are allocated locally on roads, schools, hospitals, and more. 

In terms of economics, chain businesses use these data to plan for stores, offices and manufacturing plants. Communities receive billions of dollars of funding for families, older adults, and children from the federal government based on the census results. The federal government allocates over $1.5 trillion in funding to state and local governments based on this data. Funding is allocated to more than 100 programs including Medicaid, Medicare, Pell grants, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

Politically, the count determines each state’s number of seats in the House of Representatives and votes in the Electoral College. Exactly where people live in the state influences congressional districts, state legislative districts, and even city council districts.  Researchers in government and universities use census data for all kinds of critical social research to better understand and assist certain populations across the country. For example, census numbers help communities work out strategies to deal with traffic congestion or overcrowded schools. Nonprofit organizations use census numbers to estimate the number of potential volunteers in communities across the nation. 

Next, the census helps with genealogy and historical research. Although individual records are confidential for 72 years, you can request a certificate from past censuses that can be used to establish your age, residence or relationship — information that could qualify you for a pension, establish citizenship, or obtain an inheritance. Since the United States conducted its first census in 1790, the population of the United States has grown from 3.9 million to approximately 330 million people. With 230 years of collected data, our nation's censuses serve as a valuable historical record illustrating America's changes and growth.

Finally, the census helps with maintaining public health. Many 911 emergency systems are based on maps developed for the most recent census. Census information helps health providers predict the spread of diseases through communities with children or elderly people. This can be used as a great strategy in today’s society. When pandemics spread and disasters hit, the census tells rescuers how many people will need their help.

In the past, printed forms were sent to each household that were filled out and returned. In 2020, the census has moved online. You can simply go to https://my2020census.gov and fill out your household information in less than 10 minutes using a computer or mobile phone.

While some argue that the census is too costly, it is necessary and actually benefits us economically through the allocations described above. The current count will influence funding and policy decisions until 2030. It is vital that Montanans as well as MSU students participate in the census. 

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